Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Penitence and the Confession of Devotion

This Advent, I was looking up resources on what is called the "Confession of Devotion"and found a good article on Confession by Father John Hardon.    Though it is directed towards religious, it seems to include a lot that is useful for laymen, as well.    I am quoting this section from Value of Self-Direction (scroll down in the article) which reminds me quite a bit of some of Charlotte Mason's teachings on habits.   She says, "change your thoughts."  Father Hardon expands on a similar concept in light of Catholic philosophical thinking about the will.

By regularly recalling the kind of thoughts I wish to control and planning on a positive method of controlling them, I give myself the best assurance of success. The reason is that thoughts are more elusive than overt actions; the power of the will over them is described by Aristotle as diplomatic instead of despotic. I cannot say to my mind, “Don’t think of this,” as I would to my hand, “Don’t touch that,” and hope for immediate response. I need to substitute another thought--complex for the undesirable one and hope that the latter will be driven into the subconscious. Through the examination of conscience I foresee what actions can be substituted for the usual ones, with consequently different thoughts evoked in the mind. I may have found that certain reading--perhaps innocuous in itself--brings on a train of thought that will cause me trouble with carnal images or difficulties about the faith. The foresight gained by examination will recommend changes in my reading habits, with corresponding freedom from disturbance in the mind. I can even use my examination to plan on what kind of thoughts to substitute for the bad ones; how I should maintain myself in peace when the disturbances arise; and how to divert my attention to what is attractive, but harmless, and away from what is attractive but potentially sinful.
He goes on to talk about Benjamin Franklin's habit of improving himself in various virtues by marking in a notebook whenever he failed to practice a given virtue.   This in turn is very similar to St Ignatius's advice for a Particular Examen to focus on and rid oneself of one's main faults.

Here is another painting by Georges de la Tour.  It is called "The Penitent Magdalen."   He painted four works on the subject of the Magdalene.     Even though some of the commentaries I read said that the mirror was a symbol of vanity, it seems to me that the candle-light reflected in the mirror might show her looking at her interior self in a new way -- examining her conscience in the new light of grace.. 

I found some really good advice about confession from one of our family's dear patrons, St Francis de Sales.   He shows how confession of venial sin shouldn't become a sterile habit without real intention of reforming, but should be a way of discerning and improving.   He points out that though confession is the remedy for serious mortal sin,  the Sacrament can bestow grace and remit temporal penalties for sin, so it is strongly recommended even for those who do not have a mortal sin to confess.

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